Santa Cruz Guerilla Drive-In: Free Outdoor Movies Under the Stars

Santa Cruz Guerilla Drive-In at City Hall Protest

Santa Cruz Guerilla Drive-In at City Hall Protest (Photo credit: Bob Elderberry)

There are no formal drive-in movie theatres left in Santa Cruz County, but a few times a year you can follow a set of buried-treasure type directions to find the Guerilla Drive-In, an anarchist outdoor moving movie theater whose legality is hazy but whose awesomeness is not.

Guerilla Drive-In, which started in 2002, claims, “Beyond showing great free movies year-round and bringing a broad community together, part of our mission is reclaiming public space and transforming our urban environment.”

Bringing together two passions innate to Santa Cruz — DIY (Do It Yourself) culture and great cinema — Guerilla Drive-In screens free films at different locations around town.  The first guerilla theater in the country, it often does not secure rights or permits to show these films. This is part of their mission to reclaim public space — they don’t believe permits should be needed to simply enjoy a movie outdoors with some friends.  As a result, police officers have sometimes broken up the peaceful viewings, on the grounds of trespassing.

The movement has since spread to places like Hollywood, Berkeley, and even New York.

Though some of the art films shown at Guerilla Drive-In are family-friendly, getting to the various secret locations is not for the faint of heart — recent instructions for finding the film Brazil included phrases like “Go to the back of the building.  Follow the Giant Dragons,” and “Use of bikes and Hwy 1 footbridge connector is encouraged.  At the bottom of the big bike hill, make a right.”

But what makes the Guerilla Drive-In most special isn’t the hunt to find it, or the rocky legal history, or even the fact that it started in Santa Cruz and turned into a national underground movement.  It’s the sense of community it creates, and the leeway allowed in DIY culture that isn’t present in for-profit movie theatres.  Although it only happens a few times a year, it’s worth following the Drive-In to see when the next warehouse or parking lot will turn into the weirdest theatre you’ve ever seen.

Sign up for the Guerilla Drive-In’s email list on their website to find out when, and where, the next movie will take place.

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About Blair Stenvick

Blair Stenvick is a freelance writer who has lived in Santa Cruz for four years.

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